Saskatchewan photographer weighs in on the dangers of photos on the tracks

It’s a disturbing trend that’s seen two 16 year-olds, a member of a film crew, and a fitness celebrity killed. A wedding party narrowly escaped the same fate. These are just a few high profile examples of the risks and deadly repercussions of taking photos on train tracks. These tragedies were preventable. It’s as simple as choosing to take photos somewhere else. But you don’t have to take our word for it – we sat down with Saskatchewan professional photographer, Sarah Johnson from Sarah John Creative, to get her take on “trendy” track photos and why being rail safe is always more important than a picture. Saskatchewan photographer Sarah Johnson  

Hi Sarah! Thanks for sitting down with us. Let’s get started. How long have you been a professional photographer? What kind of photography do you do?

I have been involved in photography since 2009, and just made the jump to full time within the past year. My current fields of focus are high school seniors, contemporary women’s portraiture and weddings.

When shooting, have you had clients request “train track photos?”

Absolutely! Especially from high school seniors.

I see that you posted a blog post titled “Train tracks and your photos” addressed to your clients and detailing why train tracks and photos don’t mix—thank you! What has the reaction been to this post?

I’ve received praise from other photographers for this post. It’s something my fellow photographer friends and I chat about, because none of us like being asked, and it makes it awkward for us when we have to decline our clients. So by posting this, it has provided me the option to publicly voice my business policies concerning railway photos.

By writing this post, were you able to change some of your clients’ minds?

I hope so! I can’t definitively answer if it persuaded them or not, but I hope it left a seed with them that they understand why. Taking time to educate my clients as to why is important to me. I don’t want them to think I refuse to take railway photos “just because.”

What would your advice be to photographers with insistent clients requesting photos on the tracks?

I would probably ask them if it’s worth risking their business. When I am shooting a session, my clients’ health and safety is my priority.

How have you turned down a client’s request for a shot on the tracks? What was the reaction?

I have had to turn down multiple requests, which is actually what inspired me to write that blog post.. Although most clients are disappointed, they understand that I just won’t risk my business by putting them in a dangerous situation. I’ve only ever once had someone challenge me as to whether it really was illegal or not, and being that I had educated myself on the topic, I was able to answer professionally and confidently.

Why do you think train track photos are such a popular trend?

If people only knew!! Train track photos aren’t a trend!!! They’re very passé! Just like selective colouring and those big wicker chairs that were all the rage in ’80s wedding photos!

Why do you think photographers continue to shoot on the tracks even though they know there is risk to it?

I think photographers really just want to please their clients’ every wish, and are afraid that if they say no, they’ll lose clients.

What do you think needs to be done in order to break this practice?

I think the responsibility to break this practice falls on not one or the other, but both the client and the photographer. Clients need to understand the consequences of requesting train track photos, and photographers need to stop offering them as a location option and stand their ground when asked.

It’s obvious you’re a passionate supporter of rail safety. Why are you so committed to keeping your fellow photographers safe? Do you have a personal reason? If so what is it?

My primary motivation for education of rail safety is family. I live directly across the street from the railway that runs through our town. That being said, I also have a toddler who is obsessed with trains! He loves it when the trains roll through town, but our rule is that he has to stay on our lawn to watch the trains go by. It’s a safe distance from the tracks, but it’s still close enough to see them roll through, and every once in a while there’s a friendly conductor who waves and toots the horn for him! Secondly, there is a close-knit photography community in the southeastern part of Saskatchewan, and a lot of us are friends. So not only am I advocating for the safety of fellow photographers, but for the safety of my friends.

What piece of advice would you give to other professional photographers, scouting new locations, in regards to scoping the tracks as a possible location?

Don’t. It really is that simple. There is the consequence of possible physical harm once you’re on the train tracks, but even before you ever get to the tracks, you’re trespassing.

What do you want photographers to know about rail safety? What’s the one thing you’d like them to remember the next time their tempted to shoot on tracks?

I have to limit it to just one thing?! Ha! If I had to choose just one thing for photographers to remember it’s that not only are you putting your clients at risk but yourself, as well. If they feel like it’s “…never going to happen to them.” I suggest searching for news articles involving photographers and train tracks. Those photographers didn’t think it was going to happen to them either.

Why do you support Operation Lifesaver? Why do you think the program is important?

Operation Lifesaver is the education gateway between the rail sector and the general public. Issues arise when there is a lack of understanding, and educating the photographers and the general public alike, can solve a lot of problems. Find Sarah on social media: For more on this topic, check out our professional photographers’ perspectives series. And don’t miss these rail safety dos and don’ts for photographers.